This week, Vada publisher Adam Lowe gives us his playlist – which is very much a love letter to the 1990s.
Kiesza – Hideaway
This is dance pop as it should be. Along with Clean Bandit’s ‘Rather Be’, this song has been a favourite club tune of mine for a while now. There are definite reminiscences of 90s dance here, which is perhaps why I love it so much – being a total 90s geek. Even the video is pared down and calls to mind Massive Attack’s trip hop classic ‘Unfinished Sympathy’. This is not unintentional, with Kiesza and co-writer Rami Samir Afuni penning this as an ode to the dance music of that decade.
Kiesza’s voice here fills the listener with elation. This is the kind of elation I loved in Sarah McLachlan’s vocal on Delerium’s ‘Silence’ – there’s something sublime happening that lifts the listener out of the quotidian and into an ecstatic club space. This is the heavenly thrill of MDMA, and the otherworldly time and space of the house club, but it’s also relatable to other experiences – most notably, for me, religious experiences.
The clean, minimalist music lets Kiesza’s vocal take centre-stage, and pings and bounces subtly behind her words. It’s measured and sure-footed – designed to complement the vocals, and work with it to raise you up to a place of club-love. Anyone who’s been on a smoke-drenched dancefloor when this tune comes on, and has felt that rush of joy that clubbers of a certain persuasion know so well, can attest to the power of songs like this to inspire a sense of togetherness that, for just a moment, sweeps everything else away.
Tracy Chapman – Crossroads
Everyone knows Tracy’s familiar hit ‘Fast Car’, which is a favourite of mine. I also love her achingly beautiful ‘The Promise’. But ‘Crossroads’ is, for me, the Tracy song I play the most. It’s upbeat, low-key defiance has got me through many personal challenges with a sense of purpose and triumph. The lyrics and drums are simple, bold and rousing:
All you folks think you run my life
Say I should be willing to compromise
I say all you demons go back to hell
I’ll save my soul, save myself
Though speaking with the language of Christian folk music, this is a decidedly agnostic affair:
Some say the devil be a mystical thing
I say the devil he a walking man
He a fool, he a liar, conjurer and a thief
He try to tell you what you want
Try to tell you what you need
Tracy is drawing upon the traditions of religious testimony to instead testify against capitalism and greed, drawing upon all the revolutionary roots of folk music as she does so. It’s a clever song, and one that can’t help but be inspiring.
Sting – Englishman in New York
Strangely enough, I first fell in love with this song because of my love for Sigourney Weaver and the Alien films. The song came on TV when I was about 9 years old, and had just discovered Aliens. The song featured in a car commercial in the early 90s, and the lyrics ‘I’m an alien / I’m a legal alien’ captured my fascination, and I played the song on repeat while staging battles with my Ellen Ripley and alien action figures.
Stranger still, the music video for ‘Englishman in New York’ was also directed by David Fincher, who went on to direct Alien 3 – possibly my favourite instalment of the Alien series.
Although I didn’t realise it at the time, the song is also about infamous homosexualist Quentin Crisp – now, like Sigourney, another of my idols. Quentin moved to NYC later on life, where he stood out as an eccentric and quintessentially ‘English’ character among the locals. Quentin, throughout his days, was known for his witty defiance and his determination to be exactly who he wanted to be at all.
I guess I can relate to that.
Garbage – Special
Garbage’s first two albums are on constant repeat in my house. I love the anger and rage of ‘Vow’ and ‘Not My Idea’. I love the downbeat beauty of ‘The Trick is to Keep Breathing’ and ‘You Look So Fine’. I love the dark perversion of ‘Queer’, ‘Supervixen’ and ‘Hammering in My Head’.
‘Special’ strikes me as the apotheosis of their early style – fusing pop and rock, with music and lyrics that contrast each other spectacularly. ‘Special’ undermines what we expect pop songs to be and subverts chart music quite deliciously.
This is undoubtedly an angry song, but on the surface it seems like just another pop tune. When you listen closely, the trademark Garbage wall of sound is there, and the song is threaded through with distortions, hints of metal and Shirley Manson’s rage. What’s not to love?
Skunk Anansie – Because of You
Skunk Anansie is another favourite band of mine from the 90s. This, one of their more recent tracks, captures what made them great in their first three albums. Namely, the fusion of Skin’s vocal dexterity with her bandmates’ energetic, punk and metal-inspired rock. Skin herself named their music ‘clitrock’, referencing and poking fun at the term ‘Britrock’.
Some of Skunk Anansie’s best songs are ballads – such as ‘Secretly’, which plays over the closing credits of Cruel Intentions – but I’ve always been equally fond of their ‘noisier’ output. For example, ‘Weak’, ‘Charlie Big Potato’ and ‘Brazen (Weep)’ are all wonderfully aggressive to the point that they become almost decadent – revelling in the power of rage.
‘Because of You’ is, for me, a great example of Skin’s voice – which is soft and gentle one moment, and then soars to tremendous heights the next. Meanwhile, the music tingles, smashes and crashes behind her. This track captures great sorrow and great anger simultaneously, and is similarly beautiful and violent.